Inside the Innovator’s Mind: A Conversation with Ather Beg
For this segment of our Inside the Innovator’s Mind series, we interviewed Ather Beg, an enterprise solutions architect with Rackspace Technology in the UK. Read on to learn what inspires him to innovate and what he likes most about working with customers.
How do you find time to innovate?
One has to proactively reserve and protect time for blue-sky thinking. Investing that time in yourself is extremely important for both your personal and professional lives. To make it happen, I have weekly early morning slots blocked in my calendar for such thoughts, with similar slots over the weekend for my personal goals.
How do you keep up with new technologies?
Twitter is my main tool to keep up with new technologies. I follow prominent members of the tech community for a particular topic of interest, as trends toward certain technologies start appearing in those channels first — long before anywhere else.
I also use RSS feeds extensively to follow main feeds for interesting technologies to keep up with new developments. That way, I choose my topics of interest and all the attention-worthy items get pushed toward me, rather than having to go and seek them myself.
Who or what inspires you?
Innovation of any type — whether technological or in everyday life — and the challenge to learn and discover are what inspire me. These are what keep me interested in my line of work after so many years and keep me learning about life in general.
Anyone who’s prominent in their field can be a major source of inspiration to me. Their excellence and authority on a topic shows me their commitment to their cause — which is what I aspire to whenever I pick up something new.
What is your approach to solving big problems?
I sleep on it. More specifically, I go to bed early, get a good night’s sleep and wake up early in the morning. It’s amazing how complex problems can become orders-of-magnitude simpler just by following this routine.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the problem will solve itself. If necessary, I also unplug, removing all distractions and giving thought to that problem for a good hour or two at a time (but not more on a given day). Depending on the problem, this process might take a few days, but it generally produces the result I want.
How do you manage failure?
By planning for it right from the start. I always have a contingency plan or two for anything I undertake. Even then, if I fail, I definitely don’t dwell on it for any length of time. I do identify the cause for the failure, make relevant notes/changes and try to prevent it from happening again. But then, I move forward.
Getting to know you
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Due to my keen interest in making things right from the start, I wanted to become a hardware/software engineer. For that reason, I was pretty good at electronics and programming from a very young age. I participated in many science exhibitions while in college and won several prizes.
From there, it seemed natural to earn my master’s degree in applied physics, with a specialization in electronics, which involved a lot of low-level programming.
What do you do now?
I am currently an enterprise solutions architect, which involves talking to my customers to gain insight into their business challenges and architecting solutions that address them.
Is it what you imagined?
Not exactly, but there are many parallels that can be drawn with my initial aspirations. For example, my job requires that I listen to my customers’ requirements and, on the basis of those, take the solution pieces available to me and architect a solution that fits those requirements. That’s a creative process and it’s quite satisfying when a solution meets the requirements perfectly and works without issues the first time!
In addition, a background of electronics and software development gives me a good understanding of how everything works. This can be an advantage whenever a new piece of technology comes along.
A day in the life
Do you have a morning routine at work? What is it?
Typically, I know the night before what my first few hours of work will look like the next day. So unless I’ve been told that something urgent is waiting in my mailbox to respond to, I don’t open my mailbox.
I focus on the first big task at hand while fresh in the morning, which I will have scheduled in my calendar already. That could be the time for blue-sky thinking (as mentioned earlier), or learning or resolving a problem. Following that, I open my mailbox to deal with the mail, prioritize and address the items accordingly.
What types of demands do you encounter?
Given my role, I am typically involved in designing solutions. So my time is spent either working on my own designs or reviewing designs from fellow solutions architects and/or providing feedback.
I also serve as a subject matter expert for certain technologies, so I provide support to my colleagues wherever required. And I participate actively in our constant efforts to improve our solutions for our customers and provide relevant feedback where necessary.
Which roles/people do you interact with the most? How important is this interaction?
My interactions are heavily skewed toward my customers and my colleagues, both of which I enjoy immensely and are part of the satisfaction I find in this role. That works well with my personality and genuine interest in people. This joy of interaction also helps with solving problems and ensuring that I make things easier for everyone.
What do you like about working with customers?
The interaction, both professional and social. I love meeting people, having a good chat and solving problems — which works well for our customers, too!
What’s the highlight of your day?
The highlight of my day is when I’ve achieved all three joys for the day:
- Joy 1: First-focus task/goal for the day achieved
- Joy 2: All goals for the day achieved and on-time
- Joy 3: Ending the day with family and having dinner together